“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said ‘Here I am, Lord.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and … look for a man of Tarsus named Saul … But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.’ … But the Lord said to him, ‘Go’” (Acts 9:10-15 ESV).
I have often read how young soldiers struggle with fear, thinking that they are cowards because they are afraid. Often older veterans will advise them that it is all right to be afraid, so long as fear does not prevent them from fulfilling their duty.
Christians are soldiers in a spiritual war with eternal consequences. Our enemy is fierce and powerful (Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8). It is prudent to fear him. But our fears must never cause us to submit. One can be steadfast in faithful service to God (1 Corinthians 15:58) even when we are made to fear.
I was reminded of this principle by a recent letter about the situation in another country during the Covid 19 pandemic. A brother wrote,
People have panic to visit a hospital. It is become our lifestyles, we are living with covid-19, but we have still been living with some panic of it. We come together on Sunday in small numbers, visiting members and have prayers together.
This is not unique to one country or to a few Christians. Many live in fear, but they continue to do what should be done.
When Saul of Tarsus was humbled by Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), he was handicapped for fellowship with other Christians by his reputation as a persecutor of the Church. First, Ananias, then the church in Jerusalem, rejected his overtures and doubted his sincerity. But Barnabas took a chance, listened to his story, and became his sponsor (Acts 9:26-30). No doubt Barnabas understood fully the risk that he was taking, but he did the right thing anyway.
So the brother quoted above notes the panic concerning Covid, but states, “we are living with it.” They are still assembling while taking what precautions they can. They are still moving forward with life in Jesus Christ. Fear is real, but it does not prevent them from doing what they should.
I have frequently been asked, “Are you ever frightened when you are in other countries?” The honest and short answer is yes; I have occasionally been in situations where there was obvious potential for harm. But it is equally true that I face similar situations at home, in circumstances that are totally familiar. One must be cautious in a country where he or she is clearly a stranger. But one must be cautious in any big city (and for that matter, any smaller one) in America as well. Fear of crime or accident cannot be allowed to paralyze us to the point of helplessness and inactivity.
God’s response to Ananias was short and simple. Essentially he said, “Go anyway!!” No matter that Saul had been an enemy of the Gospel. No matter that he had come to Damascus specifically to persecute Christians. God had another purpose for him and God intended for Ananias to be an instrument by which that purpose would be achieved. Ananias feared Saul, but he respected and trusted God more. He went, and God’s plan was fulfilled.
Dealt with appropriately, fear can be a positive factor. It helps us to focus or pay attention to what we are doing. I have a respectful fear of heavy and, especially, fast traffic. That is a good thing; it keeps my attention from wandering. One needs to stay sharply focused in such circumstances.
Fear may also help us remain humble. There are many things out there that are bigger, stronger, faster, and meaner than us. Realizing this may help us turn to God for help. That is always a good idea.
Finally, fear will prompt us to take precautions. Police or military SWAT teams will put on body armor before any exercise that poses danger. Such armor is heavy and uncomfortable. No one seems to enjoy wearing it. But the knowledge of what can happen if one goes into danger without it motivates them to put up with discomfort. In the same way, fear of Satan’s ability to entrap us causes Christians to go to great lengths to avoid temptation, or to arm ourselves against it.